Monday, February 28, 2011

Status Symbol

"My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God." Colossians 2:2

We have this instant messaging system at work that can be used to communicate back and forth with co-workers and update statuses. I like it because if I have a quick question for someone, I can just IM them and get a quick answer. Or if I need to go talk to someone, I can check real quick and see if they're at their desk, etc.

In this system, there is an option to include a little tag line with your status. I have ones that say "Out to lunch," and "On a conference call," etc. I noticed several months ago that some of my co-workers had little quotes on theirs and I thought that was pretty nifty. So I decided to do the same. In December I added one that said "Merry Christmas." I figured I would be a little sneaky since you're technically supposed to say "Happy Holidays."

Since then, I have decided to get even more creative and I have started to include quotes by my favorite Christian authors and speakers. I can't mention God in them, but I can talk about Him without ever mentioning His name, just like in the book of Esther. Here are some that I have included in my saved statuses:

"Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking." Oswald Chambers

"The purpose exceeds the pain." Beth Moore

"We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations." Charles Swindoll

"You cannot amputate your history from your destiny, because that is redemption." Beth Moore

I always like to include the author because I figure if people like the quote and are encouraged by it, maybe they will look up the author and want to know more, which will inevitably lead to the mention of God... the one I am not supposed to mention in the workplace. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Stripping Away

"Peter said to Him, 'Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.'"
"Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.'" Mark 14: 29-30

My boys are going to be visiting their dad next month for spring break. While I miss them when they're gone, it's also nice to have some time to myself. My house stays clean the whole week. I get to sleep in. I can go out at night if I want to. It's actually quite relaxing.

When they were gone for a week last summer, I used the opportunity to paint almost all of the white walls in my house. And although I never wanted to see a paint brush again after that, it was somewhat peaceful and relaxing. I turned on some music and just painted away. I painted every room except for the boy's bedroom and the bathroom.

I'm going to tackle the bathroom while they're gone this time. I have been dreading painting the bathroom. It is going to be quite a task because there are three layers of wallpaper on the walls. That's why I saved it until last. I am not looking forward to trying to get all that wallpaper off and I'm hoping I don't mess up the drywall in the process. But as the ugliest room in the whole house, I can't wait to see it nice and freshly painted with NO MORE WALLPAPER! Now, true, I could choose to just paint over the wallpaper but that wouldn't really produce the best results. Stripping it away is really the only option if I really want it to be fresh and new.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about God stripping away Elijah of any pre-conceived notions as to how the Lord would speak to him in I Kings 19. Elijah had been looking for God in the wrong places because of his human expectations and experiences. Once the Lord stripped any grandiose ideals away, Elijah heard the Lord's whisper.

Not only does God have to strip us away of our pre-conceived notions of how He will speak or work in our lives, he also has to strip us away of our views of ourselves, as he showed Peter in Mark 14. Peter viewed the thought that he would stumble as absurd. Surely he thought he knew himself better than that. His spirit was willing... but his flesh was weak. And just as Jesus had said, Peter denied Him three times. What followed was immediate remorse and Peter wept.

Peter had been stripped away. Suddenly He realized that the Lord knew him better than even he knew himself. That stripping away was a learning experience for Peter. A preparation. He had lived Malachi 3:3 in that moment.

After Christ died and rose again on the third day, I love to read the reaction that Peter had when the women came back from the empty tomb. The other disciples "did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense..."

"Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb."

Peter knew. He had experienced a real encounter with God through his weakness. Not once did the Lord condemn Peter for his weakness. He looked at Peter and saw his contrite spirit and willing heart and God poured out His unconditional love on Peter.

The same is true in our lives. In order to be fresh and new there has to be a time of stripping away as we are made into the image of Christ. It is a process and His mercies are new every morning. Praise You, Jesus.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Strength in Weakness

"And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'" 2 Corinthians 12:9

This morning I woke up around 1:30am after a very lucid nightmare. I am very aware of my dreams and often write them down when I wake up. Dreams have always been a fascination for me. At first, I just thought it was cool to read about dream symbols, etc. But in recent years, I have come to understand that dreaming comes from unconscious desires and pulls that we may not be aware of in ourselves. But the unconscious is not organized thought like our waking minds are, so we dream in jumbled symbols rather than actual thoughts or events. Just a little Psychology 101 for today.

Anyhow, being the analytical minded person that I am, I like to write down my dreams so that I can go back and decifer them. It helps me to understand myself better and why I do the things I do and why I feel the way I feel. Many times reactions that I have to situations while I'm awake are really rooted in something else other than what I think they are in my waking life. Studying my dreams helps me sort that out and work through root causes of things rather than treating the symptoms.

So anyway, I had this terrifying nightmare last night. It was the sort of dream where when you wake up, you can't figure out if you were dreaming or if it was real life. That made it even worse because if I was just dreaming, I could pinch myself and just go back to sleep. But this one really bothered me and I honestly did feel terrified when I woke up.

I won't share the entire dream but basically at the end of it, I was in this room in the airport watching my sister's airplane take off when this terrorist guy came in and said that anyone who was in the military was free to leave, no questions asked. Anyone who was not, would be forced to stay in the room with him. I knew that meant certain death. Even though I am not in the military, I left. As soon as I walked out the door, instead of feeling relief, I felt dread and terrible guilt for leaving because it was dishonest since I am just a regular civilian.

As I was trying to leave the airport I realized that he hadn't said that people who were in the military could leave. He said that non-Christians could leave. It was then that I realized that it was all a facade. The people in the room with the terrorist were actually the ones who would be saved. The ones who left in dishonesty would be shot dead as soon as they left the airport. All of a sudden, Matthew 10:39 started flashing through my mind. "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." Ahh! What had I just done? I felt so ashamed of my weakness. As I was getting ready to walk out the doors, I woke up... terrified. I wondered if this was actually going to happen to me one day. I asked God if this was why He has been strengthening me... because He was preparing me to go through something like this. That made me even more afraid.

"Okay, just get up and do something, " I told myself so that I could walk off this nightmare. So first, I wrote the dream down in my journal so that I could get it on paper and thus, out of my head. Then I got up and checked my email, etc to try and take my mind off of it. And I started praying. "Lord, I am feeling very terrified right now after that dream. Terrified and ashamed. Please send your comfort and lead me to scriptures to speak Your Truth to me. I know that terror and shame do not come from You."

As I began to calm down enough to concentrate, I opened my daily devotional, My Utmost For His Highest. I was still thinking it was February 20th and I opened to that day. Guess what the title was? The Initiative Against Dreaming. Funny, Lord. As I began to read it, I realized that I had already read that one and it was February 21st now. It didn't really apply to my situation at hand, anyway even despite the title.

I had my Bible right next to me but I didn't know where to turn so I picked up another devotional on my nightstand by Billy Graham. It began with 2 Corinthians 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness." Perfect. I then picked up my Bible and began to read that passage. Immediately I felt the comfort and peace of God begin to flow throughout my body and my nerves calmed. God's Word has that effect.

I realized that part of the reason I was so afraid in my dream was because I was viewing the strength that God has woven into me in recent years as my own. And I had failed. But strength is not my own. God doesn't say that my strength is made perfect in weakness... he says that His strength is made perfect in weakness. My weakness. His strength.

Thank goodness. In my dream and upon my waking, the accuser was issuing me a full blown condemnation because of my weakness. "If you are so strong, then why did you run?" he said. "You call yourself a Christian? You should be ashamed of yourself. God is going to shoot you dead when you walk out those doors because of your weakness."

Thank You, Lord that Your grace is sufficient for me. Thank You for leading me to Your Truth to extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one that were flying all around me. Thank you that Your grace is sufficient for me. And thank you for being my strength. Your strength is perfect.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Good Riddance!

"Then He said, 'Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.' And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, a still small voice." I Kings 19:11-12

Yes!!! That would have so much more impact if you could have a mental picture of the exclamation. Something like this:

That's because the passage in I Kings 19 kept coming up over and over and I kept asking God what He was trying to say to me. He didn't tell me. He showed me instead. So cool. Yes!!

I keep a prayer journal. Well, sort of. I keep a regular journal and in it I pray a lot. I'm really glad I have it because I can go back and re-read things I have written before and then see how God has answered those prayers because I have them all written out.

The thing is, I have noticed that when I pray, I pray for a certain outcome. And I anticipate that God will answer that prayer in just the way that I expect Him to, in just the way that I have prayed it. The answer will fit perfectly with the request. I have put God into a nice, neat little box with a white picket fence around it. And then I sit and wait for his answer in the way I have already imagined it will come. I mean, yes, I do pray not my will but His be done... but let's face it. I do know what my will is. In the back of my mind, I do have that hope that God will grant my requests in the way that I want Him to if I'm going to be brutally honest.

So then when I see something happen that resembles the answer I had anticipated, I immediately think that God must have been in it. Just like Elijah assumed that God was in the wind when he saw it. God told Elijah ahead of time that He would answer his prayer. Elijah was alert and looking for an answer. All good things. So the wind must have surely been a sign, right? But the Lord was not in the wind.

Elijah may have been expecting the Lord to be in the wind or the earthquake or the fire because that was how God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai. That was how He anticipated the Lord to answer. Little box, white picket fence. Once the Lord had gotten rid of any pre-conceived notions in Elijah's mind that He would only reveal Himself in a certain way, then He got down to business. The Lord spoke to Elijah and it was crystal clear. Elijah had just been looking for Him in the wrong places.

Oswald Chambers said, "Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do. He reveals to you who He is."

This is what I've seen in my prayer journal. If I am only looking for God to respond in certain ways, I may have missed that He answered at all. There has been one matter of prayer that I have been praying about for a while. I thought that God had answered, then I thought the He didn't answer, then I questioned if I even knew what I was talking about or what in the world I was doing.

What I realized was that God was there all along. I just wasn't seeing Him because I was looking for Him in the wrong place. There was wind and I thought surely He was in it. Once the Lord began to rid me of myself, I was prime for the pickin'. He didn't have to respond in the way I expected. He is God and He can do whatever He wants to. Maybe God has already answered and we are just not seeing it because it's not what was expected. Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear.

The Lord had to rid Elijah of his human expectations. It was only after that, that Elijah was truly ready to hear from God.

Good riddance neat little box!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sweet Land of Liberty

"...when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Corinthians 3:16-18

I was just reading through some of my old posts. I love being able to do that because it helps me to see where I've been and where God has brought me. I was specifically reading the one that I wrote on February 6th and thinking how much it stunk to take two steps back after I had already taken three steps forward. I felt like it was going to take forever to make up those lost steps. But I had decided then to move forward in total surrender. Writing it and reading that makes it sound like that's easy to do. Let me assure you, it's not. It's hard work.

Wow, what a difference a couple of weeks make. I feel like not only have I made up those two lost steps, but I have jumped forward 5 more in addition. I really don't even know what I want to write about today other than to say that God is amazing. Utterly amazing. (No pun intended since I just visited a dairy farm today... ha ha).

I can totally relate to the passage in 2 Corinthians when it says that when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. That is literally how I have felt these past couple of weeks. I knew before that I needed to trust God and keep trudging through the mud no matter what it took. I didn't want to. But I did it anyway because I know the One who walks beside me.

It has been SO worth it. I feel like God has lifted the veil and has shown me SO much that I never realized before in the last two weeks. I have taken a bit of a hiatus from writing every day recently. Not because I have nothing to say or because life has been uneventful. Quite the opposite, actually. It is more because I have seen and heard so much that it's like, where do I begin? Plus I'm not really ready to blog about it all yet... but someday. I just don't know when.

This post is probably just one big jumbled mess but really what I wanted to say is thank you Lord for showing me the sweet land of liberty. Sometimes total surrender is so hard. But thank You for enabling me through Your Holy Spirit to do that. Even surrender is not something I could do apart from You. And thank You for putting joy in my heart. Sorrow may last for the night but joy comes in the morning. It's funny because nothing about my life or circumstances has changed. Only my outlook because of the Truth that God has sewn into my innermost being. Thank You, Lord.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Finding Patience

I am SO excited to share today's post. It was written by my good friend, Jennifer. Jennifer was one of the teens in the youth group back when I first became a leader in youth ministry in 2001. She and I always had a special closeness and bonded quickly because we were both quiet.

It's funny because I remember praying before I became a youth leader that God would have to take away the shyness in me if I was ever going to be an adequate leader of teen girls. Youth ministry was never something I saw myself doing growing up and going into it, I was scared to death!

Those first few years were great and not scary at all like I expected. One moment stands out, though in all the years I was involved in youth ministry. One day after a 40 day missions trip with about six teens, tensions were running a little high. So we all sat down and did a sort of team building exercise that I now affectionately refer to as The Spiderweb. It starts out with a ball of yarn in the hands of one person. That person has to say something encouraging to someone else in the circle and throw the ball of yarn to them. That person continues and eventually there is a big spiderweb of yarn in the middle of the circle of people.

On that particular day, Jennifer was next to hold the ball of yarn. She tossed it to me and told me what a difference I had made in her life. She said that as a quiet person, she often felt overlooked. But because I was also quiet, she talked about how she finally felt like someone understood her and cared. Or something like that. I think I was already too choked up just by catching the yarn ball that I don't remember the exact words. That was when I realized how thankful I was that God's answer was "wait" to my prayer for Him to take away my shyness. Who knew that He could actually use that!

To this day, Jennifer and I have remained friends. And while it does make me feel really old that my girls are all grown up now and married and having babies, I love getting to see how God has worked and continues to work in their lives. I love you, Jennifer! (...and the rest of you, too)!

So here is today's guest post by the one and only Jennifer S:

Waiting. I hate waiting! I hate waiting for things to arrive in the mail, or waiting for my dinner to come when I am really hungry, or waiting in any kind of line. It is just no fun to wait! The funny thing about my impatience is that it seems to run in my entire family. Try to imagine a family of four, all impatient at the same time, having to wait on something like getting movie tickets or worse... waiting on each other! Once, I asked my grandmother if she could think of anyone in our family that actually has patience. She couldn't think of anyone.

But wait... isn't patience something I am supposed to have? I think back on all those Sunday School or Children's Church lessons I had where they drilled into our heads the fruits of the Spirit. I bet you can already start to recite them now. Yep, patience is one of them. I have struggled with that particular fruit it seems like all my life. However, I can see some moments in my life where I feel that I can handle the waiting. But is it really enough to just hang onto a few moments of patience?

Let me share with you a personal experience I have had where God taught me a lesson in patience that seemed long and painful. After getting married and enjoying being married for a couple of years, I started to get that itch to have a child. I started praying about it and daydreaming about it. I soon realized that this was not the right time. I had to wait. God knew ahead of time that after teaching for three years, I would lose my job due to the school closing where I taught. Definitely not a good time to have a baby. After many months of worry and anxiety, I finally found the right job for me.

"Maybe now is the right time to have a baby," I thought. So I started praying about it even more and day dreaming about our little growing family all the time. But again, God said, "No, this is not the right time." Money was always tight and my new job didn't offer any insurance to a part-time teacher. My hope started to rest on the fact that if only my husband could get a better job, then we would be ready. Of course, God had different plans.

Finally, in January of last year, the new job came for my husband. I was quickly added to the insurance plan and I felt that this was the right time. I got pregnant in March and on the day of my first doctor's appointment, I miscarried. I cried and cried at the thought of God telling me "no" again. I had to wait again which was something I just didn't think I would be able to withstand. The miscarriage hurt for some time, but healing came. After more prayer, I decided not to give up and to keep trying.

Then, in August 2010, I was finally able to share the news I had been waiting on for so long... that I was pregnant and the baby would be born in April. Soon, the memory of losing someone I never even got to meet with be replaced a year later with a new life just beginning. But God didn't just stop there. He has continued to pour on His blessings.

Last fall, I decided to enter my name into a sweepstakes being offered by a pregnancy website. I remember thinking that I would never win, but it wouldn't hurt to try. To my utter amazement, about three weeks ago, I got an email saying that I had won prizes valued at over $6,000 which includes cord blood banking for 18 years, which alone is valued at over $4,000!

I couldn't believe it at first. I did a lot of checking to make sure it was real. I was very hesitant to tell anyone I had won in case I was wrong. But as the prizes keep arriving in my mailbox, I know I can't think of anyone else but to continually thank my Father in Heaven for his perfect timing. I hate waiting to get to the end of things, but this blessing is something I am so glad I waited on because God's timing truly is perfect and his patience never runs dry.

And yes, I have decided to cherish every moment I find God's patience in me, so that I can keep moving forward into becoming more and more like Christ.


Here are some of the prizes that Jennifer has received so far:

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's a Crock Pot Life

Have you ever been to Outback Steakhouse and eaten the Alice Springs Chicken? Yum! That is my favorite thing to get there. Here is how they describe it in the menu: Chicken breast flame grilled and topped with sauteed mushrooms, crisp strips of bacon, melted Monterey Jack and Cheddar and finished with our honey mustard sauce. It is DELICIOUS! And what I really love about it, is that it's just as good the next day as a leftover. I usually put it in a sealed sandwich baggie and reheat it in the microwave because the baggie helps keep all the juices in while it heats. And nice and juicy it is!

So one day, I decided that because I love Alice Springs Chicken so much, that I would make my own version at home. It's pretty easy, actually. I just marinade the chicken in honey mustard sauce and then brush some more on just before cooking the chicken in a pan on the stove with a little olive oil. I saute the mushrooms in a seperate pan and add them along with the bacon and shredded cheese to the top of the chicken after it is cooked and let it simmer until the cheese is melted.

The first time I made Alice Springs Chicken at home, I started the chicken cooking over medium heat. But when you have a big thick chicken breast, it takes a while for it to cook all the way through. So I decided that maybe if I turned the heat up a little to medium-high that it would cook it faster which means that I could eat it faster. Because let's face it, my mouth started watering for Alice Springs Chicken even before I pulled the ingredients from the fridge.

The first time I made Alice Springs Chicken, it was good, but a little dry. It needed a little extra honey mustard on the side for dipping. Well, do you want to know the reason it was dry? Because I cooked it too fast. I was so anxious to eat this scrumptous, savory entree that I cooked it as quickly as possible so I wouldn't have to wait too long. Had I been patient and cooked it on a lower heat for a longer amount of time, it would have been perfect. I learned from that first experience, and now when I make Alice Springs Chicken, I cover it and cook it between low and medium and just let it simmer in there for a long time. It cooks nice and evenly and comes out deliciously juicy.

There's a life lesson in that. I do this all...the...time. I learn something knew, think I have life figured out, and then I jump right in trying to apply it to my life practically rather than letting it soak into my innermost being and simmer for a time and "cook through" all the way first. What happens is I get discouraged when I don't see instant results, and after a few days or weeks I begin to feel like a failure. I begin to listen to the condemning voice of the accuser telling me how disappointed God must be in me. The voice that tells me, "you're a bad Christian," or "you're a bad mommy," or "you're a bad friend," or... whatever. Guilt does not come from God.

This is the same thing that I was doing with my chicken. It turned out much better when I didn't rush it. When it comes to timing in life... it takes what it takes. There's the old adage that says "Rome wasn't built in a day." Neither is anything else, usually.

We live in the day of the blender. But sometimes life is better cooked in a crock pot.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

When God Says No

Today's post is written by Jamie Atchley at Heartlight.

Have you ever prayed for something fervently—prayed with faith—then sat back and waited for God’s answer? You waited…and waited…and waited. Until one day you began wondering “Why hasn’t God answered my prayers?”

After all, we have all heard sermons that give us the keys to an effective prayer life. Follow the steps, one, two, three, and you are guaranteed an answer. Indeed, God will answer all of our prayers; but what those sermons, and we, often forget is that “no” is an answer, too. What do you do? What does it mean? How do you handle it when God says “no”?

Over the last two years, God has been saying “no” to me in response to a prayer that is very dear to my heart. I have taken great comfort and instruction through these years from examples God has given us of other prayers He did not grant.

One of the most touching examples of prayers denied is the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah. In the first chapter of Luke, we are introduced to this couple. Luke tells us the situation very succinctly in verse 7: “But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.”

Imagine the years of tearful requests this couple made to the Lord. Try to feel the pain and frustration each month when they realized their prayer had been rejected again. As the months turned into years, the prayers must have grown more and more desperate, for each year as the couple grew older, they knew their chances of having a child grew dimmer.

And yet, after all these years, well past the age of having children, that is the request they continued to make of God. Until one day, as Zechariah, who was a priest, was burning incense in the Temple, an angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…” (verse 13)

At this point, you may be thinking that this story is a poor example of God’s rejecting a plea, for He granted their prayer. In fact, the child He gave the couple grew up to be the prophet that “prepared the way” of the Lord (Luke 7:27). The fact is, Zechariah and Elizabeth almost certainly did not pray for God to wait to give them a child until their old age. They wanted a child right away. And God’s answer to THAT prayer was “no.”

Even though God had plans for them to ultimately have a son, Zechariah and Elizabeth were unaware of those plans. Yet in the face of years of Divine denial, they were still individuals of faith—people who believed in praying for the desires of their heart and in a God who listened to those prayers. What are some lessons we can learn from this couple?

God Always Has an Answer

Like it or not, “no” is an answer, too. Although it is safe to assume that the couple was grieved at receiving this answer, it is apparent that they still viewed God as one attentive to their prayers. Just because God did not grant their prayer, Zechariah and Elizabeth did not give up on praying. They may have wondered why He did not grant it, but they never confused a negative response for a lack of one. If they had, why would they have persisted in praying?

In fact, sometimes for our own good, or that of others, “no” is the only answer that a loving God would give. Probably all of us can think of prayers in the past which we are very grateful now that God did not grant. When Elijah, for example, was discouraged by attempts on his life, even after his incredible victory over the priests of Baal, he prayed to God that he might die (1 Kings 19:4). God did not grant that prayer. Instead, God sent Elijah sustenance for a journey, and forty days later, God met with Elijah in a cave. Do you think Elijah regretted God’s “no”? Perhaps the “no” for which we should be most grateful, though, was in response to a prayer made in a garden one night. As a result of that “no”, one man died so all can live.

God Sometimes Says “No" to Good People

Certainly, the Bible indicates that sometimes our prayers are not granted because of sin in our lives (James 4:3; 1 Peter 3:7), but it is also true that sometimes our prayers are rejected for other reasons. For example, Job’s problems, as well as the fact that God would not answer his pleas for relief, were attributed by Job’s friends to sin in Job’s life (Job 4:7-9). God’s apparent unresponsiveness, they reasoned, had to be because of sin (regardless of the fact that they could not identify the sin), because their theology did not allow good people to suffer.

What the friends could not know because of their human perspective was the conversation to which we are privy in Job 1:6-12. This passage shows us that God’s refusal to grant Job’s prayer for relief had nothing to do with Job’s sinfulness. Quite the contrary, Job was chosen because of his righteousness. rather than punishing Job, God was showing Satan and teaching Job a lesson: that it is good to serve God whether or not you receive any physical benefits from your faithfulness.

And what of Elizabeth and Zechariah? Had God said “no” to them all those years because they were sinful? Luke 1:6 tells us “…they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” But, verse 7 continues, “they had no child…”

It is wise, when it appears that the effectiveness of your prayer life is being hindered, to examine your life to see if you are walking in sin and God is trying to prod you back into His way. But if after honest self-evaluation, you know you have repented of any sin in your life and are trying to walk in God’s way, do not continue to castigate yourself for some “unknown sin” for which God must be punishing you. Remember that the only truly righteous person who ever lived was denied a fervent prayer.

God Always Has a Purpose

We may not know that purpose while we are receiving our “no.” In fact, we may never know His purpose for saying “no” while we are here on this earth. When God closed Rachel’s womb, for example, there was no divine message to her explaining why. But Genesis 29:31 tells us that this was the Lord’s way of comforting Jacob’s other wife, Leah, for the fact that Rachel was loved by Jacob and she was not. Indeed, opening Leah’s womb and closing Rachel’s may have been the only way to secure Leah’s conjugal rights, for Jacob needed offspring, and only the wife he despised could give him children.

Elizabeth and Zechariah may have never seen a reason for God’s delay, but read farther into Luke 1. When the angel of the Lord explains to Mary what is about to transpire in her body, she is incredulous. It is very difficult for her to believe that what the angel says will happen, is possible (verse 34). What proof does the angel offer Mary that God has the power to do what the angel has said? He tells her about her kinswoman Elizabeth’s pregnancy. His point to Mary is that if God can do what is biologically impossible and make Elizabeth conceive when she is too old, He can do what is biologically impossible and make Mary conceive while she remains a virgin. Would Elizabeth’s having a child at the age of twenty have helped Mary believe the angel’s message? God always has a purpose.

Just as He did to these people—and they were real people—God sometimes says “no” to our prayers. Studying God’s “no’s” in other peoples’ lives, though, is much easier than applying the lessons to our own. Ungranted prayers will always disappoint us, but here are some suggestions to keep them from disillusioning to us:

When God says “No”…

Affirm His Presence
“No” does not mean that no one is home up there. We may get a negative response, but any response necessitates a responder.

Affirm His Power
Just because God will not, does not mean He CANNOT. He is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or even think (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Affirm His Purpose
We do not always know what this purpose is, but we can affirm THAT it is; and because of what God has revealed to us of Himself, we know that His purpose is all-loving and all-wise.

Just a NoteAfter several years of hearing “no” to her fervent prayers, God provided Jamie two beautiful alternative answers to her prayers. Then, when least expected, God answered those long ago prayers with a “yes” just as she had originally asked it even though all the experts said it couldn’t happen.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

"So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him." Genesis 22:3

I listened to an audio book several years ago called "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" by Susan Jeffers. It's not necessarily one I would recommend picking up, but I especially love the title. Isn't that what we have to do so often? Feel the fear... and do it anyway.

Abraham felt the fear and did it anyway.

God promised that he would have descendents as numerous as the stars. But there was one problem. He didn't have any children and his wife was old. Because he didn't see with his human eyes how God's promise could possibly be fulfilled any other way, he decided to take matters into his own hands and slept with his maidservant. He trusted the promise. But he didn't trust the Promiser. It was not Abraham's responsibility to bring the promise to pass, it was God's.

God did begin to fulfill his promise when Sarah gave birth to their son, Isaac. Through that, Abraham learned a lesson in trusting God even when he didn't see any way that things could possibly work out like God had promised. Abraham was a man in training just as I am in training through all of life's circumstances.

That training led up to the moment in Abraham's history that would become his crowning moment to be remembered throughout the ages. In Genesis 22:2, God tells Abraham to "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering..."

The very next verse tells us that he rose early and got ready to go. Hmm. Can you imagine the night he must have had in between those two verses? Especially the fact that verse two emphasizes the reality even more... take your only son, Isaac whom you love... Did you know that this is the first time in the Bible when love is mentioned? That is pretty intense. As a parent, I don't know how I would even sleep.

In his Enduring Word Commentary, David Guzik describes this account:

There is not the slightest hint of hesitation on Abraham's part. Abraham rose early in the morning to do this. Yet, at the same time, who could sleep that night?

Abraham is trusting God even when he does not understand. Sometimes we say, "I'm not going to obey or believe until I understand it all," but that is making myself equal with God.

He didn't debate or seek counsel from others. He knew what to do and employed no stalling tactics.

Abraham is trusting even when he does not feel like it. There is not a line in this text about how Abraham felt, not because he didn't feel, but because he was walking by faith, not feelings.

Because we already know how the story ends, we knew the whole time that Abraham was walking up that mountain with his son and a pile of wood that there was also a ram walking step by step up the other side of the mountain out of his sight. But Abraham didn't know that. The only thing He knew was that God told him to offer his son as a burnt offering and that God had also promised that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars. That did not make any sense. But Abraham did not lean on his own understanding. Because he had gotten to know and experience the Promiser, he simply felt the fear and did it anyway.

How Much Does it Cost?

"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly." I Thess 5:23-24

I don't usually make any New Years Resolutions. This year was no exception. However, this January 1st, a resolution made me instead. I didn't really give it any previous thought, it was just something I started doing.

What is it? Each morning when I wake up, before I get out of bed, I flip on the light on my nightstand and grab my daily devotional book, My Utmost For His Highest. I have not missed one day reading it since January 1st. That feels pretty good because normally I can stick with something for about two weeks but then it starts to dwindle off... i.e. the dusty exercise bike in my bedroom with boxes piled on top of it.

A few minutes ago when I read the devotional for today, I felt like I had an "aha!" moment so I wanted to write it down before I go about my day and forget.

Oswald Chambers talked about the cost of sanctification. Are we prepared for what it will cost? I want to know Christ and be more like Christ but that involves a sacrifice of my own will and quite possibly, my own comfort.

I want to be more patient. Therefore I must be willing to allow God to make every light red on my way into work this morning. I must be willing for God to be silent, even if it's for a long time. I knew a woman once who became a believer after she got married. Her husband remained unsaved. She prayed for him every day for thirteen years. Finally after all that time, God brought her husband to Himself. You don't learn patience by never having to wait.

I want to be more forgiving. That means I have to be willing to allow God to place mean people in my life. It means that I might be mistreated and will have to hold onto God really tightly at times. You don't learn forgiveness by never having anyone in your life who you need to forgive.

I want to have peace. That means I have to be ready for the feeling of being unsettled in my life. A country that is already peaceful doesn't need peace. It's the one that is in unrest.

When I ask God for these things and others, am I really ready to pay the cost? Our Father in heaven knew the cost when He sent His Son to us. He knew that He would have to suffer a brutal death on the cross, that He would be beaten, bruised, and rejected. Can you even imagine having to watch your child go through that? Yet, knowing what it would cost, He did it anyway because of His great love for us.

We have to be willing to pay the cost, too because the outcome is Jesus. If I want the character traits of Him but I'm not willing to accept the cost, then I have to ask myself... do I really want Jesus? Or do I just want an outcome to my situations.

Lord, I don't like the things that I may have to go through to obtain such things, but I am placing a firm hold on you... the kind of death grip that my son puts on me when there is a dog in the room... I know that You will be right there with me as You teach me these things.

Monday, February 7, 2011

I Want it and I Want it NOW

"Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ." 2 Thess 3:5

I've mentioned many times before that God speaks to me a lot through repetition. Right now there are several things He keeps pointing me to but I don't know the complete picture yet. So I am sorting out the puzzle pieces in faith that at the right time, I will be able to see the completed puzzle.

A couple of things that I keep being led to are: 1 Kings 19: 11-12 where the Lord appears to Elijah but not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in a still, small voice. I keep seeing this everywhere. I've gained a little bit of insight, but it's still foggy in some areas.

Something about trees. Possibly light shining down through the opening of tall trees?

The story in Philemon about Paul and Onesimus. I read about this in my journal last night from something I had written a year ago and I also remember that after I had written about it in my journal, my favorite preacher, Alistair Begg did a sermon about it. I read it last night and then I just heard John MacArthur talk about it on the radio as I was driving home tonight. So I figure there must be something there that God wants me to hear.

If you have any insight you feel led to share about any of those things, please comment on this post! I would love to hear it! Right now I'm just kind of waiting for it to all come together.

Anyway, another image that keeps running through my mind is that of walking in the sand at the beach. I have been thinking about how difficult it is to walk through soft sand and you can really get a work out on your legs. Walking on solid ground is easy, but the added resistance of the sand makes it much more difficult. If you relate that to life, what is being developed is character.

With that said, I read a very similar thing in my most recent book Dancing With Max by Emily Colson. She talked about an eighty year old woman who she met one day on the beach. She saw the woman get up to head towards the dunes and Emily wondered if she would need help climbing up them. Here is an excerpt:

...But before I could get to her, she picked up speed and started to run, her spindly legs and spongy white sneakers kicking up a spray of sand.

When I finally made it across the dune, I found her gazing at the ocean and holding a weathered fence post as if it were the mast of a sailboat.

"That was quite a sprint you did on that soft sand," I said, huffing and puffing. She smiled, but didn't respond. So I clarified,' That sand is hard to get through."

She laughed, "It's easier to get through the tough stuff if I give it a little muscle."

I looked at her out of the corner of my eye and said coyly, "I think there's a life lesson there."

"Nah," she refuted. "I've exercised my whole life. Lots of practice. It comes naturally now."

Like I said.

Sometimes I don't like the direction that God seems to be leading me and doing what He asks me is tough at times. I don't want to be still and wait, God. I want you to put together all the pieces of the puzzle right now please! But He told me to wait. So I am. In the meantime, I am learning patience.

I've learned that after you've had a lot of practice waiting, it does come a little easier. I've tried to instill that in my boys. As children, when they want something, they don't want it later. They want it now. I don't always give them what they want now. Many times I make them wait because I know that learning to wait now will teach them patience as they get older.

If I'm completely honest, I would have to say that I want things now, too. But when I look at the big picture, I really am thankful for the opportunity to learn patience because it will help me the next time I have to wait. Just like the woman on the beach when she said, "Lots of practice. It comes easily now." In the same way that my kids will never learn patience if they always receive instant gratification...neither will I.

There is a life lesson in that. Thanks, God.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back

"... I press on toward the goal..." Philippians 3:14

So I want to know... why is it that when I finally take three steps forward, just a few days later I take another two steps back? I know that I just mentioned a really good book with the same title the other day but I would much rather it be just a title on the side of my blog than true in my actual life. Touche.

For that past month or so, I have been trying hard to "press on" past disappointment and sadness. At first I thought if I just pulled it off real fast like a bandaid, it would be much less painful. I remembered what it felt like to feel sad before and I did not want to go down that road again. So that's what I did. I ripped off the bandaid and threw it in the garbage. The only thing is, that while the garbage truck continued to come every Tuesday and Friday and the bandaid was long gone, I couldn't erase the bandage from my mind. "Ugh," I thought. In the meantime, God and I had some pretty lengthy conversations about bandaids.

And then last week I remembered that while I had thrown the bandaid away, I was still holding onto the wrapper. "What if I need it?" I thought. I have already thrown everything else away. Just keeping the packaging wouldn't hurt anything, right? As God and I were discussing this, I realized that I needed to get rid of the packaging, too. I couldn't have faith in God while still holding onto a small piece of wrapping for myself. Faith requires total surrender.

So I did it. I thought of Titanic and Rose letting go of Jack's hand in the frigid water, and I just did it. It was kind of sad but also freeing in an odd way. "I'm going to trust in You alone, God." Jim Elliott said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

For two days, I was doing pretty good with this new freedom, finally moving forward like I'd been wanting to. Then the third day came. And would you believe this? The exact thing that I had thrown away (or more accurately - deleted) came right back to me like a boomerang. It was nice and sweet and it made my day. But ugh! I had just thrown it away! What timing. "What are You doing to me, Lord?!!!" I wanted to shout. I didn't want to throw it away in the first place but I did it anyway because I knew I needed to.

Hmm... maybe this is a test for me to continue trusting in God alone. I so do not want to throw the wrapper away again. It was hard enough the first time. But I do trust You, Lord and I know You know what You're doing. I think tonight I'll look at it one more time with sweet memories and give it back to God again. I will give it back to You every day, Lord if that is what You want from me. Even though it's hard and I don't always want to, I will press on toward the goal.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I'll Take Him Later

"Jesus said, 'let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" Matthew 19:14

I have several posts I want to write based on things that I've learned and read from the book Dancing With Max by Emily Colson, a story of a single mom raising a severely autistic son. The following is an excerpt from her book of a time when she was feeling overwhelmed and defeated by the grandiose task set before her in raising her son:

I was fighting with every ounce of strength, holding on to a thin thread of hope like a rope tow to God. One night I threw myself over the end of my bed, hollow, shattered, and began to pray. And the most unexpected thing happened. I got an answer. I knew it was God because he told me something so contrary to my own thoughts, and so distressing that I immediately stopped praying and threw my eyes open.

Jesus wanted me to take his hand and walk with him.

It was beautiful and startling and breathtaking. At the same time, I wanted him to have some sort of magic wand to poof my life back to perfect. What I had prayed was for my precious child to be with me, for him to be safe and well. I prayed for a home and finances and food and work and friends and hope. But walking with Jesus was, by all means, a stunning offer. This wasn't the red type on the pages of my Bible; his presence was palpable. He had somewhere he wanted to take me, walking forward, together.

..."Okay," my willing heart quickly responded. "I'll have to get Max first." And this is where it all fell apart. It was his response to me, so contrary to my instincts, that sent me into a panic. "I'll take him later," he told me, still asking for my hand.

I'll take him later. There are so many days that I worry that I am going to screw up my kids. Especially raising boys. I am a girl. I like to do girly things like playing dress up and braiding hair. And God gave me boys. He knew that I, a girl, would be raising two boys on my own, at least for a time. And He gave me boys. Boys need a daddy to bring them into manhood. And not just that. Many times I feel like I am just "winging it" every day. That I really don't have a clue what I'm doing as a parent.

The thing that I'm forgetting when these thoughts and doubts and fears come into my mind is that God has never forsaken me. I've gone through hard times and He has always been there, holding me in the palm of His hand. If He has done that for me, why wouldn't He do that for my children? The Bible says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. God loves children. He loves my children.

Maybe I should stop worrying about being my children's savior and let the only One who truly has the power to save carry them in His loving arms. And also to realize what a gift it is that God has allowed me to be their mommy.

Yes, I will walk forward with You, Lord. I will let you carry me when my legs don't have the strength to stand. And I will trust that in the same way that you carry me, that you will also take care of my children... Your children.

Highlights of Year 34

Since today is my last day of being 34, I thought I would remember back over this past year and some of its highlights.

*Last year on my actual birthday, my peers from work got together and gave me an ice cream cake and gathered around and sang happy birthday. My boss tricked me to get me into the conference room and I actually fell for it. That was fun. I felt very special.

*Last February, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Gainesville about DiGeorge Syndrome (22q). It was amazing and it really changed my life. It was so cool to get to meet other children who also had DiGeorge Syndrome. One little girl had a communication device like Garren. Another little girl's speech sounded just like his. The speakers were fabulous and I went away with so much information that I had never had before. It was because of that conference that I was able to get the ball rolling with Garren's surgeries to help his speech. Here is a picture of the boys with some of the other 22q kids:

*Evan's speech really took off over the past year as well as his adorable little personality. He is almost always cheerful and smiling or laughing. He always makes me laugh as well.

*I read some good books over the past year. I used to read a lot and I read a ton now, but for a while I didn't read that much. It's just been over the past year that I've started to read a lot more again. Some of the books I've read this past year are: "Dear John" and "The Last Song" by Nicholas Sparks; "Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back," by Charles Swindoll; "A Time to Mend" and "A Time to Gather" by Gary Smalley and Sally John; The entire Redemption and Firstborn series by Karen Kingsbury; "Be Patient" by Warren Wiersbe; "Dancing With Max" by Emily Colson... well I can't remember the others at the moment but it seems like I've read a lot more than those listed.

*I bought a big blow up pool last spring and the boys and I spent many days outside swimming in it. Lots of fun. Until I realized that the pool did not have a plug to drain the water out. So I had to stand there and step on the side of it while the water rushed over my legs! Still fun, though.

*Made some new single mom friends like Kristina and Carrie. I think there's a special bond between single moms and our kids.

*Over the summer I found a really great new church with sound, Biblical teaching and more new friends. I liked my old church okay but there was just something missing for me. I didn't feel like I really fit in there for some reason. I finally feel like I belong now and I love the new relationships and things that I have learned over the past six months that I have been there.

*I was able to join the ladies of my new church in doing Beth Moore's Esther study. Fabulous study. I have done quite a few Beth Moore studies and will be a fan forever. Her way of studying inspires me.

*Because I have a lot of PTO at my job, I was able to spend some time in Michigan this past summer at my parent's campground in Homer. We got to enjoy smores, campfire pizzas, playing Bingo, riding on grandpa's golf cart, playing mini golf, going to "Redneck church," playing marbles (or should I say winning at marbles), riding on the paddle boats and lots of other fun things. Also during that trip, I was able to spend some fun time with my friend, Liz in Owosso and my friend since kindergarten, Angie in Jackson.

*The boys and I were blessed to have my sister come and spend the entire summer with us. Being a teacher definitely has its perks!

*Met a really nice guy and got to spend a couple of great months together. Even though things didn't work out like I had hoped, I still will carry fond memories of that time.

*Got to go wedding dress shopping with my sister! She asked me to help her get into the dresses while we were at the store. It may not have been a big deal to her, but to me it meant a lot. We have always been super close so it was fun to get to do that with her. I also tried on a really pretty bridesmaid dress and it made me feel fancy.

*Started blogging more! I love blogging. It's very therapeutic for me and reading back over the past things that God has taught me, helps me to see where I've been and where the Lord has brought me. On many days it has been the strength I've needed for that day.

*Today on my last day of being 34, many people at work have wished me a happy birthday and given me cards. My boss is buying me lunch and one woman made me an apple cheesecake with fresh apple slices on the top. Mmm... I can't wait to dig into that!

I've definitely had many ups and downs over the past year, but overall I think I would say that I'm pretty blessed. (-:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Last Day

"Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow." James 4:14

Almost two weeks ago, two local police officers were shot and killed in the line of duty. It was a very sad and tragic day. In fact, it's really hard to believe that it's almost been two weeks already.

It turned out that one of the officers was a strong, Christian man with a wife and three young children. A couple of days after the incident, his wife called a local secular radio station and gave an interview with the radio host. I think it's awesome that she called a secular station. She had a good amount of air time to openly proclaim the faith of her husband and their family with no interruption. Amazing. Click here to listen to the interview. (You may want to grab some Kleenex, first).

One of the things I loved most from that interview was when she talked about her husband leaving for work that morning. Their five year old son, she said, was usually a pistol in the morning when it came time to get up and get dressed. She said that many times her husband would flash his police lights real quick before he left for work because his son loved it. That morning in particular, she said that he flashed his lights not for a real quick second, but for about five minutes. Their son was so excited to see him flash the lights that long. His wife said he never flashes them that long. But for some reason, he did that morning and it made his son's day. Little did they know as they watched him out the window, that it would be the last image of him they would ever see. I love picturing that image in my mind of a loving, devoted dad taking a little extra time that morning just to put a smile on his son's face.

I just finished reading Emily Colson's book Dancing With Max. I highly recommend it. It's the story of a single mom raising her severely autistic son. I mentioned it a few days ago in a previous post before I had finished the book. Now that I have finished it, I can say that the last part of the book was equally as good as the beginning. It is definitely going on my favorites list.

Emily talks in the book about how she comes to the realization that we never know how many more days we have. So she decided that when she got up in the morning, she was going to start saying, "This is my last day alive. How am I going to spend it?"

...continued excerpt...

"Pictures popped into my mind, my own movies to choose from and savor. I imagined taking Max to the beach and running into the water, with our shoes still on. And then, we would attend the international trampoline-jumping contest, which would once again be held in our backyard, with Max and I as the two lucky finalists. And then we would build Lego bridges together, not the little one we usually make, but one that spans the entire length of our living room. And maybe we'll go somewhere today, even somewhere daring, like into the heart of Boston together. If it's my last day alive, who cares what others think if it doesn't go well? On my last day, autism is not going to hold the two of us hostage.

I thought about people who have been kind and caring, people I love; I need to tell them so. I'm going to stop wasting energy trying to teach Autism 101 to people who never wanted to attend that class in the first place. I'll still do everything I can to help my son learn and advance, but on my last day alive I'm going to stop handing out oars to people who don't want to row. It's time to throw out my ideas of what I thought life would be, should be, and let joy fill up those brand-new vacancies."

I love that. I remember another quote I read once in a Proverbs 31 daily devotional that said when our children get older, the thing they will remember most is not the sweet smell of Pine Sol. It will be the time we spent with them playing and laughing.

That's what I want my children to remember. So tonight we spashed our hands in the bathtub to make giant bubbles. We got out some stencils and made little animals on paper. At the end of supper when I had finished but the boys were still eating, I had gone into the living room and snuck back into the dining room with my monster claws out and I creeped up real close and shouted "Rah!!!" They laughed. "Again, again!!" they said.

Maybe they'll remember the smell of home when they get older. It does usually small good because I always keep a candle on the warmer. Right now it smells like peaches. Yum! But more than that, I want them to remember the time we spent together. Many days I am pretty well spent after working all day, but I want to keep these stories as a reminder for myself of what really is important in life.

Because one day, it really will be the last.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

There's a Boat, Jack

"...but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before..." Philippians 3:13
There are a few movies that I can watch over and over and never get tired of them. Titanic is one of them. In fact, it was on TV a couple of months ago and I stayed up until about 1:30am watching it on a "school night." The next morning when I had to drag myself into work on about 4 hours of sleep, I was kicking myself and trying to figure out why I felt the need to stay up so late to see how a movie I've seen 100 times ended. But I couldn't pull myself away.

I was thinking about the scene that happens right after the one pictured above. Rose and Jack are in the freezing waters after the ship went down when a life boat comes back around to check for survivors. When Rose sees the boat, she tries to yell for them to tell them she is alive but her voice is gone from the time spent in the bitter cold waters. Just as the boat is turning around to go back, Rose sees a man close by with a whistle and realizes that if she can just get to that whistle, she can signal the life boats to return and save her.

But she is still holding onto Jack's frozen hand. In order to get the whistle, she has to let go. If she continues to hold onto his hand, she will die. The only way to save her life was to let go.

Letting go is really hard. Even though it's just a movie, I still cry every time I see Rose have to pry Jack's lifeless, frozen hand away from hers in order to save her life. I've had to let go of things before that feel like that. Whether it's a particular ministry, or a relationship, or just the dream of how I thought life was going to be. Sometimes I don't want to let go. Okay, most times I don't want to let go. I have a really difficult time letting go. I think I always have.

But there's a boat. And I know that letting go is the only way to move forward. It's painful and sad sometimes, and it is not the denial of the past because every experience helps us to grow and mature. Beth Moore says "you can't amputate your history from your destiny." But there's a boat... and it's time to grab the whistle.